Alaska’s state capital is also one of its most beautiful cities and one of the most visited communities in the state. With so much to see and do, there’s certain to be something for you in Juneau.
About Juneau (Tlingit: Dzánti K’ihéeni)
Downtown Juneau sits snugly between Mount Juneau, Mount Roberts and Gastineau Channel, and is a maze of narrow streets running past a mix of new structures, old storefronts and quaint houses featuring early 19th century architecture left over from the town’s early gold mining days. The waterfront bustles with cruise ships, fishing boats and floatplanes zipping in and out. With no road access to Juneau, it is the only state capital in the United States that can only be reached by airplane or boat.
Things to do
Juneau’s lively downtown is compact, easy to navigate on foot and always a favorite with visitors. Within easy walking distance of the cruise ship docks are many of Juneau’s main attractions, including the state capitol building, Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, several museums and historic South Franklin Street, where turn-of-the-century buildings today are gift shops, restaurants and pubs. Also nearby is the Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau with visitor information, displays and walking tour maps of the city.
Just a short drive from downtown, one of the city’s most iconic sites sits at the edge of a residential neighborhood: Mendenhall Glacier. The glacier sits within the Tongass National Forest – the largest national forest in the United States – and visitors to the area can watch icebergs calve off its frozen face into Mendenhall Lake, go for a hike or check out the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. Mendenhall Glacier is one of the 38 major glaciers that extend from the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Icefield, and many of them can be seen from the air as part of a flightseeing tour. Most helicopter tours offer glacier landings, glacier treks and glacier dog sled rides.
Whale watching tours are a popular way to see the diverse marine life in the area including Steller sea lions, Dall’s porpoise, killer whales and humpback whales, which return to the area each summer to feed on krill and herring. Juneau has about 60 humpbacks that frequent the area and are so commonly viewed that many tour operators offer a guaranteed sighting or your money back.
For many, the best way to experience the area is the most affordable — on foot. Few cities in Alaska or elsewhere offer as many hiking trails as Juneau. Many wind to the face of a glacier or climb above the tree line, where you can overnight in a public-use cabin.
Juneau also offers access to some of the region’s top attractions, including Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness Area and Admiralty Island National Monument.
It's best to be prepared for a variety of weather conditions while on your adventures in Juneau. Summer temperatures are mild, with highs in the mid-60s, and the area receives frequent precipitation since it's located in a temperate rainforest. Be sure to pack a raincoat and a couple of extra layers and you'll be set. Like the rest of Alaska, Juneau’s summer days are long and winter days are short, with up to 18 hours of daylight at summer solstice in June to just a few hours of daylight at winter solstice in December.
Speaking of winter, Juneau is a hidden gem for winter sports. Just 12 miles from downtown Juneau is the Eaglecrest Ski Area, with over 640 acres of skiable downhill terrain, plus opportunities for cross country skiing, backcountry skiing, and heliskiing. For the best snow conditions, visit Juneau from January – March. Most visitors to Alaska in winter are eager to see the northern lights. While the northern lights can be seen throughout the state, you’ll have much better chances of seeing them in Interior and Arctic communities like Fairbanks and Coldfoot.
Getting to Juneau
Most summer visitors reach Juneau via cruise ship – indeed, it is one of the most popular ports of call in Alaska. However, Juneau is also served multiple times a day year-round by Alaska Airlines, and can be reached by the state’s ferry system, the Alaska Marine Highway, in both summer and winter.
Staying & Eating in Juneau
Downtown Juneau is home to several nationally-owned hotels along with locally-owned hotels and boutique inns with plenty of Alaska charm. Be sure to book early - even with plenty of options, hotels fill up quickly in the summer months.
For travelers interested in sampling Alaska’s local food and beverages, Juneau is a foodie’s paradise. A large selection of restaurants and cafes are located in downtown Juneau with options ranging from fine dining to walk-up grab-and-go spots featuring the area’s amazing fresh seafood. The local beverage scene is also hopping in Juneau with several breweries, including the popular Alaska Brewing Company, a distillery, craft cocktail lounges, and local coffee roasters. Want someone to guide you through Juneau’s fantastic culinary scene? Join a food or brewery tour for an insider’s perspective on the area’s culture, history, and cuisine.
One of the reasons Juneau has so much character is that it’s one of Alaska’s oldest cities. Established before the big Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, Juneau also has gold in its past. In 1880, a local Tlingit Indian chief led prospectors Joe Juneau and Richard Harris to what later became known as Gold Creek, where the two men discovered nuggets just laying on the ground. Soon after a town site was established, making Juneau the first city founded after the purchase of Alaska by the United States from Russia. The area later became home to what was at the time the largest hard-rock gold mine in the world – the Treadwell Mine. Juneau became Alaska’s territorial capital in 1906, and, after statehood in 1959, its state capital.